Mystery Of The Seven Sages In Ancient Myths And Legends

Ellen Lloyd – – In ancient myths and legend we often encounter the mention of seven sages. These extraordinarily wise men are present in the myths and legends of Babylon, Sumer, China, ancient Greece, and India. Who were these people and why were they so important to our ancestors?

The Apkallu – The Demi-Dods Who Were The Seven Sages

In Babylonian myths and legends, they are referred to as Apkallu. These beings are described as demi-gods created by the god Enki. Their duty was to establish a culture and give civilization to mankind. They served as priests of Enki and as advisors or sages to the earliest kings of Sumer before the flood.


A bird-headed Apkallu on a relief at the palace of Ashurnasirpal II, collection of the National Museum in Warsaw. Image credit: Wikipedia

The Apkallu were fish-like men who emerged from the water Abzu, the primeval sea below the void space of the underworld (Kur) and the earth (Ma) above.

The Apkallus are referred to in several Sumerian myths in cuneiform literature.

In the Erra Epic, Marduk specifically asks for the Seven Sages by saying” asks “Where are the Seven Sages of the Apsu, the pure puradu fish, who just as their lord Ea, have been endowed with sublime wisdom?”

Were the Seven Unknown Men The Seven Sages In India?

In India, there is a story of Nine Unknown Men that goes back to the time of Emperor Asoka. Whether the seven unknown men and the seven sages were the same individuals remains unknown.

Emperor Asoka was a remarkable individual. In his book “Outline of World History,” H.G. Wells wrote:

“Among the tens of thousands of names of monarchs accumulated of the files of history, the name Asoka shines almost alone, like a star.”

Asoka respected all religions and promoted peace according to God’s wishes. All living beings should enjoy security, peace, happiness and live in freedom. He preached vegetarianism, abolished alcohol and the slaughter of animals.

The Nine Unknown Men avoided social contacts and their society was concealed from the public eye. They were never engaged in any religious or political disputes.

The Nine Unknown Men avoided social contacts and their society was concealed from the public eye. They were never engaged in any religious or political disputes.

Emperor Asoka was a truly great man!

Asoka was a wise man and realized that man’s intelligence, scientific and technological breakthroughs were often put to evil uses.

Therefore, during his reign, natural science past and present was vowed to secrecy.

This led to the creation of the Nine Unknown Men, the world’s most powerful society founded by Emperor Asoka.

Seven Sages Of Ancient Greece

The first European to refer to a similar and yet less mythological tradition is the Athenian philosopher Plato (427-347), who mentions seven names of wise people that “were lovers and emulators and disciples of the culture of the Spartans.”

In Plato’s Protagoras, Socrates says. “There some, both at present and of old, who recognized that Spartanizing is much more a love of wisdom than a love of physical exercise, knowing that the ability to utter such [brief and terse] remarks belongs to a perfectly educated man. Among these were Thales of Miletus, and Pittacus of Mytilene, and Bias of Priene, and our own Solon, and Cleobulus of Lindus, and Myson of Chenae, and the seventh of them was said to be Chilon of Sparta. They all emulated and admired and were students of Spartan education, could tell their wisdom was of this sort by the brief but memorable remarks they each uttered when they met and jointly the first fruits of their wisdom to Apollo in his shrine at Delphi, writing what is on every man’s lips: Know thyself, and Nothing too much. Why do I say this? Because this was the manner of philosophy among the ancients, a kind of laconic brevity”

These seven people were later believed to have founded Greek philosophy. The historical problem with identifying these men is that not everyone agreed about the names. The historian Ephorus replaced Myson with Anacharsis, a legendary Scythian sage mentioned in the Histories of Herodotus of Halicarnassus. A generation after Plato, Demetrius of Phalerum, a pupil of Aristotle of Stagira, was not too happy with Myson either, so he replaced him with Periander, the tyrant of Corinth.

Seven Sages
The Seven Sages, depicted in the Nuremberg Chronicle.

Although the list of sages sometimes varies, the ones usually included are the following are

Cleobulus of Lindos:  He governed as tyrant of Lindos, in the Greek island of Rhodes, c. 600 BC.

Solon of Athens: “Aa famous legislator and reformer from Athens, framing the laws that shaped the Athenian democracy.

Chilon of Sparta:  A Spartan politician from the 6th century BC, to whom the militarization of Spartan society was attributed.

Bias of Priene: “A politician and legislator of the 6th century BC.

Thales of Miletus:  the first well-known philosopher and mathematician.

Pittacus of Mytilene: He governed Mytilene (Lesbos) along with Myrsilus. He tried to reduce the power of the nobility and was able to govern with the support of the popular classes, whom he favored.

Periander of Corinth: The tyrant of Corinth in the 7th and 6th centuries BC. During his rule, Corinth knew a golden age of unprecedented stability.

Seven Sages Of The Bamboo Grove In China

The Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove were a group of Chinese scholars, writers, and musicians of the 3rd century CE. Although the various individuals all existed, their interconnection is not entirely certain. Several of the seven were linked with the Qingtan school of Daoism as it existed in the Cao Wei state.

Seven Sages in China

The Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove embroidered on dark blue satin woven silk, 1860-1880. Image credit: Wikipedia

The existence of the Seven Sages in China was in danger when the avowedly “Confucian” Jin Dynasty (Sima clan) came to power. Among other things, some of the seven wrote poems criticizing the court and the administration and wrote Daoist influenced literature. Not all seven sages had similar views.

Seven Sages in ancient China

The Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove (with a boy attendant), in a Kano school Japanese painting of the Edo period. Image credit: Wikipedia

The Seven Sages wished to escape the intrigues, corruption and stifling atmosphere of court life during the politically fraught Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history.  In order to do so, they gathered in a bamboo grove near the house of Ji Kang in Shanyang (now in Henan province) where they enjoyed, and praised in their works, the simple, rustic life. This was contrasted with the politics of court. The Seven Sages stressed the enjoyment of Chinese alcoholic beverages, personal freedom, spontaneity and a celebration of nature.

Seven Sages in ancient China

“The Seven Saints in the Bamboo Wood” painted inside the Long Corridor on the grounds of the Summer Palace in Beijing, China. Image credit: Wikipedia

The Seven Sages, or the symbol that they became, have been remarked to be influential in Chinese poetry, music, art, and overall culture.

The idea of seven sages who taught mankind is not without parallels in ancient legend and many civilizations. There is little doubt that seven very wise men did exist in ancient times and the idea has been spread from one ancient nation to another.

Written by – Ellen Lloyd – 

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